By Michael Workman
On a sunny but cool Saturday, I’m driving with my wife and son through the back roads of Wicker Park, looking for the Gosia Koscielak Studio and Gallery on Bosworth. We find it at 1646, past a vacant lot and behind the building that used to house a Blockbuster Video, at the end of a narrow street that merges into a blind turn. It’s in a spot that nobody would have any reason to visit, except kids roaming the alleys to dumpster dive or homeless people looking for a dry spot to sleep under the Kennedy Expressway overpass. Outside, it’s a storefront building in one of those prefab-looking buildings that developers throw up to create a postage-stamp’s worth of real estate. Inside, it’s a textbook version of a white-cube art space. Care was clearly taken in preparing the room—there’s nice lighting and it’s unexpectedly pristine. It’s only their third show, but they’ve got a solid foundation to build from. Koscielak is thoroughly European in her approach—her stated goal is to place American art in an international context—and she really wants to get noticed. Not always in the best way, it’s worth mentioning, has she gone about communicating this. Personally, after no less than five phone calls and better than a dozen emails, it was tempting to ignore it and I usually would, except Koscielak runs this like a not-for-profit space, with a mission that largely gets an unsympathetic reception. And anyway it’s nice to see some passion in an otherwise tedious art world, even if expressed as PR. (Her website at www.gosiakoscielak.com, has the wrong address listed and no information on the current show.)
But reflected in the art in the current show, CrossMediale 1, is a composite of Koscielak’s real promise. Right inside the door stands Galina Shevchenko’s monstrous architectonic, shining silver Mylar drapery, hung from near the ceiling and dotted with miniature video monitors. Playing on them are Shevchenko’s scribbled drawings, animated and backdropped against video of tulips shot in Chicago. Melinda Fries has a three-monitor wall-hung piece against the front wall of the main room, broadcasting surveillance video shot in the Kinzie industrial corridor, showing a lot parked full of construction trucks, including a crane on a flatbed. Overlaying the scene are recordings of freight trains that Fries made while riding from “Chicago to Portland via Kansas City.” Catherine Forster of the fantastic video art curatorial project Lightbox has a clever three-screen fake vanity mirror and lightbox installation playing a looped DVD of “Rachel’s Makeover.” It’s both tender and terrifying in its close-up scrutiny of a woman’s face. There’s a lot of good work.
But, ultimately, what Koscielak’s done is attempt to elevate the fringe, with examples of video installations, VR environments and a whole lot of photography, digital prints and media that serve to emphasize the virtual nature of much current art. That fascination with contrivance is the sticky fissure at the center of this show, and Koscielak’s internationalist ethics: it’s the gray of the black-and-white authenticity that much of the art espouses. It’s telling that the esthetics are relied on to carry the substance of the show, while the content’s assembled detail upon detail with no real goal realized well enough to contend as an end purpose. And whether a common purpose can be discovered that overcomes differences in custom and core values is what makes this space worth watching.
Two shows worth visiting this week inhabit public space downtown: first is “PRODUCT Placement” by husband and wife team Tom Burtonwood and Holly Holmes (full disclosure: Tom works with me on the art fairs I produce outside my work with Newcity, and both are friends of mine). They’re best known for their paintings and sculptural objects, all of war machines: tanks, helicopters, battleships, stacks of munitions. In recent months, these two have moved in their practice toward more totalizing environments, for instance, covering the interior of the Page Brothers Building space, where they’re this month’s Open Studio artists, with sale-sheet inserts from local papers. A scale-size Abrams A-1 battle tank has been constructed for the center of the room, which will be camouflaged with the inserts. Also on this week’s list of recommendations is “Bilateral Symmetry,” an installation by Vera Scekic at the Hyde Park Art Center’s satellite exhibition space, In the Loop Gallery at the Cook County Administration Building. It’s a rainbow of colors in circular shapes made from pouring acrylic on drafting film, which are then arranged in grid-like patterns throughout the installation. It’s a fine match for a government building, a play on the erratic nature and often inscrutable methods for organizing information.
“CrossMediale 1” shows at Gosia Koscielak Studio & Gallery, 1646 North Bosworth, (773)252-9921, through August 28. Tom Burtonwood and Holly Holmes show at the Page Brothers Building, 177 North State Street, (312)744-6630, through August 25. Vera Scekic shows at In the Loop Gallery, 69 West Washington, (773)324-5520, through November 4.